How California Can Save Nearly 326 Billion Gallons of Water On The Cheap

la river photo

Photo via PhillipC via Flickr Creative Commons

The Pacific Institute has released a new report titled "California's Next Million Acre-Feet: Saving Water, Energy and Money that outlines the steps the state can take to come up with its next one million acre-feet of water. All of it would be relatively easy and a whole lot cheaper than trying to drum up even more fresh water out of a dried-out state -- even cheaper than surface storage projects. The steps all involve existing technology and a little bit of planning. And if California could manage it and set an example, then might the rest of the US follow suit?

When we say "one million" in these days, it usually sounds like chump change. Except in the case of acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to flood an acre of land a foot deep. It is equal to 325,851 gallons. When measuring a million acre-feet of water, we're talking just shy of 326 billion gallons, or twelve times the amount San Francisco uses in a year, or enough water to irrigate all the grain in California for a year, or as much water as would be produced by 18 large desalination plants the size of the Poseidon plant in Carlsbad, California. In other words, it's no small amount.

As is the case with energy, conservation is the smartest, cheapest and most direct solution, far and away better than tapping into yet more sources to feed wasteful water practices. The report shows that more than one million acre-feet of water that can be conserved through improved efficiency, with savings coming from the urban and industrial sectors and improvements in agriculture.

Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute is an expert on water issues. He writes, "The report estimates that this next million acre-feet of water would require an upfront investment of less than $1.9 billion, costs that could be borne by a mix of state, federal, and local agencies and individuals -- all at a small fraction of the cost of the proposed water bond. The cost of the conserved water is $185 per acre-foot for the agricultural sector and a net savings of $99 per acre-foot for the urban sector, over the lifetime of the efficiency improvement. This approach also conserves energy, saves money, and reduces the need for new water and energy projects."

According to the report, 30% of the savings can come from the urban sector (by replacing old water-using devices, replacing lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping, etc) and 70% from the agricultural sector (by using weather-based irrigation scheduling, switching to drip or sprinkler irrigation instead of flood irrigation, etc). Both sectors could save a whole lot more than this, so it's just the start of what has the potential to be an incredible improvement and savings for California water use. If it were implemented.

And that is up to first citizens pushing policy-makers to create the needed regulations, and then citizens again who must implement the new policies and regulations. In other words, it's up to humans to figure out that we'll need water in the future, and to take steps to ensure we have it.

As Gleick states, "It is hard to make progress on water issues in California. But the best path forward is clear: investing in efficiency is a winning step for everyone. It is time for all of us -- individuals, businesses, water districts, irrigators, and legislators -- to move forward on this path."

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